March 3, 2017

Café Life: 5 Ways to Get Your Customers to Return


Repeat customers are wonderful. They represent increased income for less marketing efforts, good word-of-mouth recommendations, and higher chances of satisfied customers. (Not to mention better customer-barista relationships!) But they’re not always easy to get, especially with today’s fierce competition.

So I decided to share five steps you can take to encourage customers to return. They go back to the basics of business strategy, and have the power to have a strong positive impact on your profits. Read on to find out more.

Lee este artículo en Español: 5 Maneras de Lograr Que Tus Clientes Regresen

Commonwealth coffee

Repeat customers are important for any café. Credit: Stephanie May via Commonwealth Coffee

SEE ALSO: Is Adding Sugar to Coffee Really That Bad?

1. Attractive Design

All your returning customers were once first-time customers. So what is it that made them step into your café for the first time? It was probably at least one of these four things: proximity to home or the office, needs (caffeine, food, or a meeting space), social media, and design.

According to urban planner Bob Gibbs, who specializes in malls and shopping districts around the US, it takes just eight seconds to walk past a typical storefront. And once someone is two seconds past the door, they won’t turn around. This means you have to grab them in the first four seconds.

So how can café owners do this? Design. From the storefront to the cups, everything has to be appealing. Some types of lighting are more welcoming than others. Some colour schemes exude coziness, others style. Even the shape of the chairs is of fundamental importance.

Here’s a quick-and-easy tip: an open door generates more business than a closed door. And for coffee shops, it allows passers-by to smell your coffee. (Just remember not to let your customers inside the shop get cold either.) Imagine walking home after a long, stressful day at the office. It´s raining, and you forgot an umbrella. But suddenly you smell the delicious aroma of roasted coffee. Now you’re in a better mood! And so you follow the smell to a beautifully designed coffee shop.

Good Coffee

Good design can encourage guests to return. Credit: Good Coffee

2. Friendly Service

People go back to the places they feel welcome. This is especially true for cafés which, from Istanbul to London, have always been spaces for people to meet and interact.

Let’s take the word familiarity. That’s something you should have with all your regulars. The thing is, the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “casual friendliness”. It’s that feeling when barista and guest can have relaxed conversations together, making them feel welcome. And you don’t have to wait for someone to become a regular before you’re friendly to them.

I know it’s difficult to engage in conversation with customers in the middle of a busy period, especially from behind the espresso bar. However, making the effort to remember someone’s daily order, or asking them how work was, can have a strong impact on the number of your regular customers.

There’s one more question you should always ask. It can enlighten you, it can fill you with pride, or it can destroy your self-esteem – and it’s vital. That question is “How was your coffee?” Asking it shows a commitment to quality and to hospitality.

Matraz Cafe

Make your customers laugh, and they’ll return. Credit: Matraz Café

3. Customer Needs

In the fascinating Coffee Life in Japan, Merry White makes the point that cafés are the perfect places to be alone in the crowd.

In your café, you’ll come across an array of people who just want to have a coffee by themselves. Some people stare out of the window reminiscing, others just want to get lost on their laptops. Some are waiting for a date that got delayed in traffic. A few will be immersed in big books while slowly sipping their already-cold cappuccino.

A café is “the third space”, neither home nor work, and as such it has its own social rules. Part of the art of good customer service is knowing when people want to be left alone and when they don’t. This might sound like the opposite of my last point, but you just need to find the right balance for each individual guest.

Of course, encouraging people to buy more beverages will help to pay the rent. However, it’s good to remember that coffee shops sell not just coffee, but also ambiance.  

Bar Nine

Some customers want to talk. Others will want to be left alone. Credit: Bar Nine

4. Perceived Value For Money

Customers will come back if they feel it´s good for their pockets. Josiah Wedgwood’s china may have been a favorite of the British royal family in the 1700s, but even he had to remember this. In fact, he pioneered “buy one, get one free”, an idea that changed marketing forever.  

In today’s food and beverage industry, however, the term isn’t “buy one get one free”. It’s “buy ten, get one free”. I’m talking about those small loyalty cards that baristas stamp until customers get their magical free coffee. It’s a great trick for encouraging return customers.

Patrons like to feel appreciated. Giving them a small piece of cake or a drink will cement their loyalty.

Melt Cafe

Never underestimate the power of a loyalty card. Credit: Melt

5. High Quality

This may be the last point, but it’s also the most important. You can have the best seats in town, the most attractive baristas, cups made of heavy gold and spoons of diamond… but if you have a bad or mediocre product, you won’t get repeat customers. Although you’ll probably see a lot of new faces that want to steal your diamond spoons.

So what is quality? Well, deliciousness, cleanliness, and efficiency are concepts that everyone understands. And believe me, your customers will look for them.

Remember, as well, that humans are like fingerprints: it’s impossible to find two that are the same. But if you offer a wide range of products at a high quality, you’ll have higher chances of seeing customers return.

Quills Coffee

Give customers a coffee they’ll want to return for. Credit: Quills Coffee

Getting customers to return requires effort – but not as much effort as getting new customers. What’s more, they make your café feel more welcoming, recommend you to all your friends, and are much easier to please. So take some time to consider these points, and see how you can turn one-time customers into regulars.

Feature photo credit: Sonder Coffee

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